Citizens across Ohio are taking up a fight against the use radioactive brine on roads throughout the state.
According to a press release from the Ohio Community Rights Network (OHCRN), radioactive oil and gas drilling brine is used as a deicer and dust suppressant on public roads. The release states the radioactive waste is getting disposed into the watershed and poisoning it in violation of Ohio Revised Code 2927.24.
That section of the code states no one shall “knowingly place a poison, hazardous chemical, biological or radioactive substance or other harmful substance in a spring, well, reservoir or public water supply.” If they do, it is a first-degree felony.
OHCRN is calling for an investigation into the brine usage and potential poisoning.
“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has verified that there’s Radium 226 and 228 (in the brine),” said Sherry Fleming, a board member of OHCRN and Williams County resident. “There should be real concern over this, with exposure to people and especially getting it into the water supply.”
Williams County Engineer Todd Roth said the county doesn’t use brine on the 400 miles of county roadway he’s responsible for.
He does use something else.
“I do get some sand that has some liquid mixed in with it that I add to our salt, but I do not use a direct application, a direct spray application of brine to the roads,” Roth said. “I’m going to get ahold of the company we get our sand from and get the specs on the material that they’re using. I want to see how that is and how that compares.”
Because the places that use brine still need to plow the roads, he said he didn’t know where the cost savings come in.
In addition, the county has too much mileage to use a brine application in addition to what they use.
“There’s no way we could get material down on all 400 miles and still get back to plow, as well,” he said.
A call to the Williams County Ohio Department of Transportation Garage was not returned by press time. Previously, local ODOT officials and Bryan city officials have said they use some sort of brine on the roadways but it’s unclear what the exact chemical compounds are and if they are or are not the type of brine to which OHCRN is objecting.
On Friday and Monday, nine residents handed letters of concerns along with a packet of information on the toxicity of the brine to county prosecutors as well as Attorney General Dave Yost.
Fleming said she delivered a packet to Williams County Prosecutor Katie Zartman’s office. Zartman is out of the office this week and no one from the office Monday could confirm receipt of this particular packet.
Fleming said the trigger for this action was efforts in the Ohio General Assembly that would make the brine a commodity in Ohio, opening its usage up to more people.
She said when communities try to enact local laws to protect the ecosystem, the state usually says they don’t have the authority to do it.
“If the state is going to prevent local communities to enact laws at the local levels to protect themselves then they need to do their job at the state level,” she said. “We’re hoping out of this effort we’ll make it more aware.”
According to a 2017 report from ODNR’s division of Oil and Gas Resources Management/Radiation Safety Section, Radiation Safety Section (RSS) staff collected 14 brine samples from six locations in Ohio.
The report, found on Buckeye Environmental Network’s website and also provided to The Bryan Times by Fleming, states Nature’s Own Source/AquaSalina’s radioactivity is higher than state limits for Radium 226 and Radium 228. It exceeds drinking water limits for those same elements by a factor of 300 and states human consumption of it in any amount is “highly discouraged.”
“Heavy metals and radiologicals accumulate in the soil and become problematic for drinking water,” Trish Demeter, the Ohio Environmental Council vice president of Policy, Energy, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2019. “They don’t just go away. The more you use deicers, the more these toxins build up over a long period of time.”
According to the story, the legislature rejected the reports’ findings and in 2018 introduced a law that would ease regulations on AquaSalina and prevent ODNR from imposing additional requirements.
State Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls, who sponsored that bill, told the Plain Dealer that no one wants to hurt the environment or dirty up the water and air.
“This company discovered how to take raw brine and convert it to a product that can be used safely on our roads and driveways with less corrosion than salt,” Dolan said in 2019.
Currently, Senate Bill 171, which would commodify brine from oil or gas operations, was referred to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in April with two hearings held in May.
A similar measure, House Bill 282, had three hearings in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in May.
No vote has been taken on either bill.
The release from OHCRN states that even without passing these bills, the Ohio Department of Transportation and ODNR have permitted and utilized the brine for several years.
“We have tried to bring this problem to the attention of our elected officials and have found that they are more concerned with protecting the profits of the oil/gas industry than protecting the people, the environment or the future of the state,” Kathie Jones, OHCRN board member from Medina County, said in the release. “We have been accused of breaking the law for attempting to pass laws banning this waste in our communities and now we find out that the state is breaking its own law. This needs to be exposed and dealt with.”
A page on the ODNR website states the brine is a saline by-product generated during oil and gas well drilling, completion and production operations and has been approved by the general assembly and the Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
In 2019, an ODOT statement on AquaSalina found on Local 12/WKRC-TV in Cincinnati states the products ODOT uses goes through a battery of tests.
“Both ODNR and (Ohio Department of Health) have studied AquaSalina and have concluded that the use of this product on Ohio roads is within acceptable public health limits,” the statement reads. “It is important to note that this product is only used to combat snow and ice and extremely cold temperatures when rock salt begins to lose its effectiveness. It is simply one of many tools ODOT uses to control snow and ice on our roadways.”